Animal Instincts

He’s got an eagle eye. He’s as quiet as a mouse. She eats like a bird. She was stunned like a deer in headlights. He’s a sly fox. Don’t take him seriously—he’s just a lapdog. She moves like a cat. He’s a bull in a china shop….

Accurate or not, animal references are often used to describe people. Mice may actually be quiet, but “she eats like a bird” is nonsense, unless she’s eating all day long. Birds, depending upon species, eat 10, 30, even 100 percent of their body weight on a daily basis. If a 120 pound woman were to eat like a hummingbird, she drink gallons of sugar water and nibble on thousands of insects adding up to 120 or so pounds of food every day. That’s an awful thought!

Animal instincts are part of us. The human/animal dichotomy is familiar turf for fairy tales, legends, mythology, and good old-fashioned storytelling. It’s also a lens for viewing the psychological make-up of characters. The instinct to fight or flee is rooted deep in our brains. To be precise, it’s in the limbic system (aka the lizard brain). Our fears, tendencies toward aggression, desire for sex, and our addictive behaviors are all tied up in that “primitive” part of the brain.

A friend of mine is fond of saying that cats are “all limbic system and no prefrontal cortex.” That’s not accurate, but it’s his way of explaining the limits of intellectual discourse with a cat. (Perhaps he just lacks imagination?) At any rate, cats are focused on primal needs. They live in the moment, with little concern for the future and no ability to worry about the past. Sounds Zen, doesn’t it?

A catlike person is agile, responsive—even jumpy. Domesticated cats, although often described as frisky and pictured chasing balls of yarn, rodents, or birds, spend their time sleeping and hunting like large predators. Even my elderly housecat indulges in crepuscular (twilight) adventures. He wanders around my apartment like a big cat stalking prey on a savanna. His life runs on instinct and that means sleeping and grooming are priorities. In that way, he is exactly like some of the people I’ve met.

So maybe the attractive self-centered, nimble, lazy, well-groomed fashion-ista is the catlike person in the room?

Alert to the possibility of prey in the apartment.

Alert to the possibility of prey in the apartment.